LAZY SATURDAY


LAZY SATURDAY

 

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On this Saturday afternoon towards the end of siesta time on a hot 30 degree C/86 F day, I am relaxing in my second-story, darkened room, when I suddenly hear the mariachi performing a live concert in a backyard garden, a few houses further up the calle. So lovely how the trumpet is skilfully dancing its tune, after which the violins and guitars are answering with a slightly different variation of the leading trumpet’s melody, line after line. This is a musical discussion between the brass and the string sections. Unfortunately, I cannot hear the singers’ voices from this distance, but I do hear the ‘ole’s and ‘bravo’s from the audience and the firecrackers.

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Mexico, you know how to have a party; your fiestas are joyful, always musical, and creative in many other ways.  I want to put that all in my suitcase when I will prepare to leave for the cold climate in Canada in two weeks, and take it with me.

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(Fiesta of Chapala 2016)

After having lived for six months in my little town in Mexico I am returning to my other home. Most of the snowbirds have already left. It doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference, as more Americans than before seem to stay year-round now. Weekends are very busy here with the crowds from Guadalajara flooding the town. The carretera (the highway through town that connects the lakeside villages) is slow going with bumper-to-bumper traffic, like the highway 97 through Kelowna, but luckily still just two lanes, although that undoubtedly will also change in the future. (Have you also noticed that this expression—in the future—is not used anymore? Media commentators now say: going forward. I wonder what happened that the future has become so unpopular.)

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There is a building boom going on. Many young men are working, and since the work is here much more often manual or completed with less mechanical appliances, and lots of crafts still are used in the construction of the houses, lots of men are working, and still, more men are needed.

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I did manage to get the befriended painter-artist to make me a set of wardrobes with paintings on the doors.  But  I can’t get my handyman to finish the job of hanging the sunshade back up on the second floor. He doesn’t answer my call about when this is going to happen. He likely has his hands full with other work, now that there is no difference anymore for him between ‘the season’ and ‘off-season.’ Well, it’s not an emergency. It can wait.

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Money is streaming into Ajijic: foreign money and local money, and from Mexicans living elsewhere. I read on the CNN online publication that Mexicans in the USA sent home $26.1 billion from January to November 2017, according to figures released by the central bank of Mexico. That’s the most ever recorded and better than the $24.1 billion sent in 2016 over the same period. The total annual figure for 2017 is on pace to hit another record high. Remittances are one of Mexico’s top sources of foreign income, outpacing oil exports, which totaled $18.5 billion between January and October, according to the most recent figures available at the Bank of Mexico. Manufacturing exports are the top source of foreign income for Mexico.

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(Mexico is growing and becoming an economic powerhouse. Photos from 1950s.)

Trump, eat your heart out. That wall is not being built and not being paid for by Mexico. And by the way, if Mexican cartels would not buy your American weapons, the gun dealers would have to close their stores. A U of San Diego study into guns in the USA stated that if US dealers couldn’t sell to Mexico, 47% of gun dealers would go out of business. I think Mexico would be better off if there was a wall and if it kept those guns out. I never heard Trump own up to the fact that his nation’s gun dealers are a liability for Mexico.

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(History is not going to be repeated where white invaders and their clergy could exploit the people of Mexico – mural in Chapala’s town hall).

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At the same time, federal and municipal elections are in the works. The push for voters’ allegiance is on. It is really noticeable that the public works budgets are being spent right now on public projects to impress the public. At the local level, the main street has new, even, sidewalks of embossed concrete, and even a bicycle path is laid from the Walmart site on the edge of town to right in the center of town and stops by my turn-off on Juarez. A reporter from the Ojo de Lago (an English-language monthly magazine) had done research and knew that the municipality of Chapala had hired twice as many employees as the previous mayor. All businesses were asked to paint their fronts. The place looks outright clean, tidy, and better maintained.

 

 

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Hola! The mariachis have started up their gig again, probably with a cevesa or tequila or two in them. I hear singing now too. Wonderful. I am beginning to recognize the melodies lately. It’s time I get myself a drink too.

 

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If you have a thought about visiting me between December and May, you are welcome. Just know and understand that I live in a Mexican neighborhood, not a cleaned up version of it where mostly gringos live, and definitively not a gated community. It would help to feel comfortable if you learn some basic Spanish, like hola, buenos dias, and buenas noches, and gracias, haha, and Quiero un margarita por favor. I heard my American friend (who has spent a good part of her youth here and lives here most of the year) complain that lately there are too many gringos, and she misses the Mexicans. Not at my place: I definitively live in the barrio.

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And January/February can be cold, relatively speaking, so take warm clothes too. No, not your minus 20 coat, but jeans, socks, and a sweater or puffy will do. And bring good shoes, because all the other streets are still built with uneven sidewalks and cobblestones from the 17thcentury—not the civilized, uniformly shaped, manufactured cobbles from Europe and from your landscape place—but uneven and natural rocks (even in the sidewalk).

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Too bad, the mariachis are done. I have enjoyed the two sets of each 45 minutes. That is a costly affair. Must be an important anniversary or birthday. I should be starting to think how I want to celebrate my next birthday here—the big one: 70!

 

Time for my dip in my little pool to cool off and have that drink. This April was hotter here than ever, people told me. I bought a lounge chair today for sitting on the patio. The music is already taken care of: modern music now, don’t know who plays it, but likely my neighbor behind me.

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Posted in Babyboomer, Dealing with aging and dating, Diversity issues, elections, Global immigration, Immigration, International politics, latest news items, Mexican life, Murals, Music, Pubic Relations, religion, Relocation to mexico, Retirement, The truth, Trump, Uncategorized, world issues | 4 Comments

MEXICAN STYLE PATIO


MEXICAN STYLE PATIO

My friend lives in the cutest casa and she is a master in decorating Mexican style and gardening;  I just had to take photos of her work.  With her permission, I post them here. Her companion is Jezebel.

 

IMG_0481Jezebel is waiting for her mistress to come along to the patio.

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A mobile statue: the weight of the stone bodies cause a pendulum movement when set in motion and then the mother starts rocking her child.

 

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The ladder wasn’t meant to be decorative, but it is!

 

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TOO FUNNY.

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ISLA DE MESCALA


 

ISLA DE MESCALA

 

The article below is taken from the website The Informer, with my own photographs added, taken last week on the island.  I am placing a copy of the article here, as the research is better than I can do myself with my limited knowledge of Spanish.

 

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GUADALAJARA, JALISCO (26 / JAN / 2014) .- Many of the Sunday walkers who visit the Chapala Lake to rest from the city bustle, do not know what is beyond their boardwalk. One of those well-kept secrets is the Island of Mezcala, a prodigious 20-hectare land full of living history, which also offers the most amazing views of the gray water mirror.

 

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From the island the rebels could see how the Spanish reconstructed their galleons on the coast of the Ribera across from them. The ships had been taken apart and brought overland from the ocean to the Lake Chapala to conquer the rebels. They failed and the ships stranded on the rocks and against the underwater barriers.

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(Debbie, Carol, Dennis and the guide by the church that lost its roof. Grandson Jackson was there too; he roamed around the island with the pup in tow).

 

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(The church was built on the place where sacrifices were made to the Aztec gods, here on the island, and all signs of their worship were extinguished and the idols were thrown in the lake by the priests. The recent renovations of the site allowed for a circle to be restored, to indicate that there was indeed a previous culture of Aztec people).

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(Above a photo of the crosses, I am not sure of their meaning,  and where the virgin was honored with a statue and where the local Nahuatl prayed. It was removed with the restoration of the historical site).

Founded around 1280, it was once a cult center of great importance for the pre-Hispanic civilizations of Jalisco. Also later known as Presidio Island, it is located on the North Bank of Chapala Lake and is reached by the Chapala Highway after passing through other riverside towns such as Tlachichilco del Carmen, San Juan Tecomatlan, San Nicolás and Ojo de Agua.

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(Inner courtyard of the prison-Fuerte with Carol, Dennis, and the site’s guide)

The island belongs to the town called Mezcala de la Asunción, in the municipality of Poncitlán, where there is a community of indigenous Coca, mostly fishermen, and textile artisans. There are also some huaraches workshops. From the town, there are boats to get to know that piece of land surrounded by fresh water.

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(The trees offer welcome relief from the sun. The guide said these trees were not here during the time of the presidio.)

 

From the traces of its pre-Columbian greatness, there were palpable testimonies such as obsidian tips, ornaments, shooting tombs, ceramic pieces from the Teuchitlán tradition (Guachimontones), the Ixtépete type (the classic period from 200 to 700 AD) and the Aztlán tradition (850 to 1350 AD). But his most recent history takes us only about 200 years ago.

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(On the way by boat to the island: the birds watch us, while we watch them.)

 

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(This tree is called Arbol de la Vida–Tree of Life and was revered because of its health in spite of having no soil to draw nutrition from. The locals had put a statue of the Virgin there at the bottom of the tree and held prayer sessions, but that all disappeared in the push to update and restore the site.)

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(A piece of art in a gallery of folk art in San Miguel de Allende that I thought would give an impression of how rich the inner life and the imagination of indigenous peoples can be if this painting is an expression of that.)

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(Father Hidalgo calling the people to stand up against the Spaniards, starting the rebellion in Guanajuato and Dolores and in San Miguel de Allende. Mural in Ajijic).

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(Among the rebels on Mezcala Island was  Castellano, a priest in Ajijic. He is buried in Jocotepec. Mural in Ajijic.)

In Mezcala, one of the most fascinating chapters of Mexico’s War of Independence was written. Persecuted after the battle of Puente de Calderón on January 17, 1811, a group of insurgents settled on the island to raise a fortress that resisted the attacks of the royalists for four years (1812-1816).

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In the site, there are remains of thick walls, made of stones arranged on top of each other, which constituted the tanneries, barns, obrajes, corrals, as well as the dormitory galleries for the soldiers, the kitchens and, fundamentally, the crossings where the insurgents watched what happened in the distance.

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It was not the weapons that subdued the rebels. The resistance happened because of an epidemic of typhus spread among the population. When the forces of the Spanish Crown realize that they can not defeat them by force, they decide to extinguish any nearby source of food, medicines and hygiene products. That caused the disease to proliferate and in the end, the insurgents surrendered.

 

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So that no one would forget what happened, Don José de la Cruz, mayor of Nueva Galicia, known for his cruelty and bloodthirsty methods when fighting, ordered in 1817 the installation of a prison that would prevent the rebels from recovering the island. Thus, a new fortification was built, consisting of a moat, drawbridges, embrasures, plaza, slopes, firing ranges, among other elements, of which the ruins still remain. It is the only structure of military architecture that survives in Jalisco.

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(Mural on the lakeshore in Ajijic indicating the history of the rebellion and what happened on Isla de Mezcala. You can see the Spanisg galleons sailing up, but they got shipwrecked on the dfence system of walls of rock)

 

With the passage of time, this story was left in oblivion. But since 2005, the State Government undertook a comprehensive rehabilitation of the island that ended only last year. The objective was to detonate its tourist potential, and the main intervention consisted in the rescue of the ruins of the fortification now known as Casa Fuerte to turn it into a museum.

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In mainland

In addition to its island, Mezcala has much to offer visitors curious, foreign or local. In the heart of the town, it is worth knowing an architectural work of religious type dating from 1703, the Church of the Assumption, dedicated to the Virgin of the same name, with its white facade and its two brick towers.

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You can also go hiking in Punta Grande and El Venado hills. What definitely can not be left out is a visit to the famous “Cueva del Toro”, where there are cave paintings and petroglyphs that have been preserved over a huge rock for centuries.

TAKE NOTES

How to get?

From the Metropolitan Area of Guadalajara you have to take the Carretera Chapala until you reach the municipal capital. Then, travel the González Gallo road for about 22 kilometers.

The journey from Chapala to Mezcala lasts just under 30 minutes.

By:  INFORMATOR The original was in Spanish on the website.

January 26, 2014

 

 

Posted in architecture, Diversity issues, Global immigration, Mexican life, Murals, religion, Relocation to mexico, righteousness, travel, Uncategorized, war and resistance | 3 Comments

THE DOGS OF MEXICO


THE DOGS OF MEXICO

 

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Mictlanteculhtli by Jesus Lopez Vega

Jesus Lopez Vega is a local artist.

When in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do. That’s what I told myself, but I don’t have a dog (anymore). Dogs figure prominently in the little town where I live. They roam the streets or hover around the neighborhood, waiting for the garbage to be put out, or for a resident to put the leftovers by the street for them.  They are a different breed from the pets that we see in Canada. Most of these dogs are no pets in that same sense. They often fend for themselves. They may be adopted by residents and given food, but there is little sentimentality involved. Most dogs are working dogs, and there are some that spend their lives on top of the roof—roof dogs—as guard dogs. Of course, there are also pet dogs that are pampered, just like the pets of Canada. There is an intensive action (mostly driven by the gringos that live here) to take better care of the roaming dogs, have them sterilized, and get them medical care when they need it. When I try to be friendly to the dogs on my street, they are not eager to respond and keep a safe distance, weary. They expect that people cannot be trusted.

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Most kids here grow up knowing about dogs.  I see the kids on my street deal with the dogs. If the dog is a big one and eyes their treat or follows them, or they want to dog to leave, they throw rocks. I have seen adult women do that too, to be sure, not with an overhand throw with power behind it, but with an underhanded throw in the air. The rock will come down on de dogs back, with a little luck.

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As most Canadians know, dogs can run in packs and can become more like wolfs than the pets we know and love; they can start hunting wildlife or cattle. It would be good to know for kids how to defend themselves against a pack of dogs.  Bigger kids might be meaner than the small children (who play unsupervised in the street), but I haven’t seen that yet, although I am told it does happen. I have seen a grown man in a car let his dog run behind the car through the length of the street and not let the dog in the vehicle: the love for dogs is fickle, and can be cruel. The dog is a man’s best friend they say; that dog deserved better. In San Miguel de Allende I heard that dog fighting is a thing. My host there had rescued one of her 4 dogs from that ring.

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The history of dogs in Mexico is very long and predates American society. In Aztec beliefs, dogs are thought to be the intermediary between the bad spirits/god of the underworld—Mictlanteculhtli—and humans.

From Wikipedia:

“Mictlanteculhtli was 6 feet tall and was depicted as a blood-spattered skeleton or a person wearing a toothy skull. Although his head was typically a skull, his eye sockets did contain eyeballs. His headdress was shown decorated with owl feathers and paper banners and he wore a necklace of human eyeballs, while his decorative plugs in his ears were made from human bones. He was not the only Aztec god to be depicted in this fashion, as numerous other deities had skulls for heads, or else wore clothing or decorations that incorporated bones and skulls.

In the Aztec world, the skeletal imagery was a symbol of fertility, health, and abundance, alluding to the close symbolic links between life and death. He was often depicted wearing sandals as a symbol of his high rank as Lord of Mictlan. His arms were frequently depicted raised in an aggressive gesture, showing that he was ready to tear apart the dead as they entered his presence. Mictlanteculhtli is often depicted with his skeletal jaw open to receive the stars that descend into him during the daytime and was associated with spiders, owls, bats, the eleventh hour and the north, also known as Mictlampa, the region of death. He was one of the very few deities held to govern over all three types of souls identified by the Aztecs, who distinguished between the souls of people who died normal deaths (of old age, disease, etc.), heroic deaths (e.g. in battle, sacrifice or during childbirth), or non-heroic deaths.

Mictlanteculhtli was the god of the day sign Itzcuintli (dog), one of the 20 such signs of the Aztec calendar, and regarded as supplying the souls of those who were born on that day, joining the sun god Tonatiuh to symbolize the dichotomy of light and darkness.

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This dog has one bad eye.

According to the Aztec creation myth, the sun god demanded human sacrifice (my addition: as a symbol not so different from the Christian tradition—the crucified Son of God) as a tribute, and without it would refuse to move through the sky. It is said that 20,000 people were sacrificed each year to Tonatiuh and other gods, though this number is thought to be inflated either by the Aztecs, who wanted to inspire fear in their enemies, or the colonizing Spaniards, who wanted to vilify the Aztecs—the latter were fascinated by the sun and carefully observed it, and had a solar calendar similar to that of the Maya. Many of today’s remaining Aztec monuments have structures aligned with the sun.”

“A common belief across the Mesoamerican region is that a dog carries the newly deceased across a body of water in the afterlife. Dogs appear in underworld scenes painted on Maya pottery dating to the Classic Period and even earlier than this.  In the great Classic Period metropolis of Teotihuacan (outside of present-day Mexico City) 14 human bodies were deposited in a cave, most of them children, together with the bodies of three dogs to guide them on their path to the underworld.”

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The Xoloitzcuintli is a hairless dog from Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence has been found in the tombs of the Colima, Mayan, Toltec, Zapotec, and the Aztec peoples dating the breed to over 3500 years ago. Long regarded as guardians and protectors, the indigenous peoples believed that the Xolo would safeguard the home from evil spirits as well as intruders. In ancient times the Xolos were often sacrificed and then buried with their owners to act as a guide to the soul on its journey to the underworld to the underworld. These dogs were considered a great delicacy, and were consumed for sacrificial ceremonies – including marriages and funerals.So far the excerpts from Wikipedia.

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This one is the size of a large mouse.

 

Most of the people here may not be aware of this long history of their dogs, but one thing remains: that there are many dogs and they roam everywhere, having the freedom to go wherever they go, unless of course, they are stuck on a roof, or behind a fence as guard dog and are barking their heads, off when they sense an intruder. They come in all sizes, shapes, and mixes. Recently there have been reports that somebody is intent to get rid of them and they are being poisoned. I fear this may be the beginning of the end of the freedom for dogs. My neighborhood dogs have for a good part disappeared. I saw that the four bigger dogs are kept at night behind a gate that used to be open at the end of my privada (private road), but now the gate is closed at night.

 

 

Posted in Babyboomer, Diversity issues, dogs, Global immigration, Mexican life, Relocation to mexico, Retirement, travel, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

UPDATE EASTER IN MEXICO


UPDATE EASTER IN MEXICO

Check back to see the video and photo updates.

 

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EASTER IN MEXICO


EASTER IN MEXICO

 

This website has a video of the betrayal of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, his trial and the crucifixion that happened today, Good Friday.

 

In the small village of Ajijic where I spend months at the time Easter is the most significant time for the locals. I try to catch most of it, in respect for the volunteers who spend the whole year preparing and rehearsing for the Passion Play, the PASSION DE CRISTO.

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This is the time of the Jacaranda trees in bloom as if the colour purple mimicks the mourning of Good Friday.

 

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My street at sunrise, after the decorations were hung by the residents of the street the night before—a communal effort with everybody out in the street “helping” the young men with ladders and commenting, visiting and having fun.

 

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The neighborhood community spent cleaning the street in the morning and remove old cars. This is the cleanest it will be for that year. Not an empty pop bottle or garden refuse to be seen, no non-recyclable food containers or plastic cups on the street! That is a miracle in itself, and it gives me the confidence that one day it will last longer than a few hours. The reputation of the barrio is the issue! I live on the edge of the Mexican poor section and the rich section (La Salvias). I can walk to my house from the town core and feel very protected, as most know that “gringa” by now. If I go home from the other side, from the rich neighborhood, everything is silent, nobody walks in the street, all are behind their fortifications en barbed-wire-topped walls. I love my barrio.

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The character Jesus (wearing a blood-stained mantel) is temporarily relieved from bearing the cross by a helper walking next to him  (ahead of the two other characters with rough-shaped crosses). He is also wearing a crown of (real 1-inch) thorns. As the procession is very quiet, I missed the arrival on my street in front of my casa, and wasn’t ready with my camera to catch Jesus. The U-tube video shows it well.

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The victims of the execution are guarded by the Roman guards, after which the clergy–the Pharisees–follow to witness the proceedings. They are then followed by the commoners, followers of the rebel Jesus and his mother, and the usual rabble present at such occasions.

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This the entry, turn right into my street Angel Flores. Some of the guys were willing to be in the photos as they probably had a good part in hanging the decorations.  The decorations were made communally in a working bee in the old days, and were made by a contractor this year, and paid for by the locals themselves. I walked through the streets afterward to enjoy the decor and the cleanliness of the streets.

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Most Mexicans are members of the Roman Catholic church, although their belief is a mix of modern Christian themes with old beliefs—Aztec and older. The RC church leaders have accepted those blended beliefs and this has made the church a lively and enduring force in the life of the Mexicans. The indigenous Virgin of Guadalupe is a brown Maria and is revered as the Queen of Mexico, as well as accepted, and a stand-in for Mother Earth/the Goddess in other central and south-American nations.
I am a non-believer, but respect and enjoy the integration of spiritual beliefs with the everyday life that I see around me. For the first time, I will be witnessing the procession to the hill—that doubles as the Garden of Gethsemane e and also as the executioner’s hill: Golgotha—from my own casa, as the actors and the followers will go through my street. I will collect a number of photographs and add those later to this piece.

This is a short video I took of the lovely movement of the very thin paper street decorations. NB: Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t allow me to download it.

BOOK REVIEW

The Easter story is that of a small country (the tribes of Israel/Palestine) under a foreign occupation (Egypt) in which the occupier suppressed the natives’ religion and imposed its own laws.
The locals’ religion meant a significant identifier for the population and they adhered strongly to their beliefs. Then a turn of events during the occupation took place that had a long-lasting effect on the whole world:
A blaspheming unusual local Jewish man came along and upset the applecart, preaching a new world and a new way of seeing things, attracting many followers. He was making the religious elite (Pharisees) fear for their position as the leadership, including loss of the wealth they obtained from being at the top.

The religious leadership conspired and set a trap for the preacher man Jesus, and had him arrested, led him before the occupying governor, and pushed for his condemnation as a rebel. They got their wish and the man was sentenced to death. In his death, he became the martyr for his followers. This was the start of Christianity (his second name, Christ). Some believe he was resurrected from the dead to inspire his followers. He is still acknowledged as a prophet in several other religions, such as the Jewish and the Muslim religions. So far the Easter story.

This is a work of fiction inspired by true events. The book is called The Bible.
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The piece below is copied from the previous online publication in the Ajijic News from the reporter Micki Wendt.

In a Catholic culture, the time between Ash Wednesday (the day after Carnaval) and Easter is a more solemn and quiet time of reflection and prayer, known as Lent, which leads up to Holy Week, or Semana Santa. The San Andres church puts on a notable production of the Passion Play, which commemorates the events leading up to the Crucifixion of Jesus, each year. The actors who portray Jesus, his followers, the Romans, and other Biblical and historical characters, will be rehearsing for this event during this time. Please have respect for this season.

Holy Week starts Sunday, March 25th, Palm Sunday, with a small preview of the Passion Play as the scene of Jesus riding the donkey into town will be re-enacted with a large procession between 6 Corners and the San Andres church, past the plaza at 6:30pm. The street will be strewn with alfalfa (rather than palm fronds) and bougainvillea petals to honor the coming of Jesus. Please respect the tradition and do not walk on these special devotional decorations.

That day will also feature a fund-raising food fiesta in the plaza where you can buy unique fiesta foods, including the wonderful ponche de guayaba, and have a lovely, early dinner in the plaza before the lovely outdoor, sunset Mass at 7pm at the San Andres Church, if you like. There will be seating for around 1000 people.

Thursday evening. Maudy Thursday, March 29th the Passion Play will feature scenes of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, staged in upper Ajijic in the hills at Calle Tempisque. There is no seating, only standing room. The Roman soldiers will come and take the Jesus character away, and a torch-lit procession proceeds down to the chapel in Ajijic, via Calle Emiliano Zapata to Colon, for the final scenes that night.

The biggest day of the Passion Play is Good Friday on March 30th, at 11am, where there will be a huge crowd at the Church for the final trial of Jesus and the procession leading up to the Crucifixion of Jesus through upper Ajijic via Calles Parroquia, Hidalgo, Juarez, Angel Flores, hasta el pie del cerro. Returning via Calle Emiliano Zapata, Colon, Parroquia to the interior of the church.The next 24 hours are a solemn time for observant Christians, which is most of the village, so please respect this tradition.

Saturday night, the 31st, there will be a late Mass and Easter service at 8pm, which features a beautiful Resurrection Scene. At the end of the Mass, there will be pealing church bells, fireworks and celebrating both in the Plaza and at family homes. In True Mexican Tradition, the Big Day is really the night before, like Christmas, and Sunday will be a quiet day of rest for most of the people, many of whom will continue with their vacation break for the next week.

Easter on April 1st begins the exodus of the northern seasonal visitors, as the weather heats up and things calm down, and we full-time residents look forward to the refreshing coolness and tranquility of the upcoming rainy season.

I never fail to be awed by the love, devotion, and creativity put into all these fiestas, which are an essential part of Mexican culture, unseen by most of the foreign visitors. Please come out and enjoy these rich and enjoyable events that are so meaningful on so many levels. The spirit of fun is off the Richter Scale here in Mexico.

Submissions by Micki Wendt — Edited and updated by Ajijic News

Copyright 2018, AjijicNews.com

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I couldn’t possibly write a better piece than Micki.

For now: HAPPY EASTER to everyone who reads this.

Posted in Author circles, book review, Creative fiction, Diversity issues, EASTER celebrations, Immigration, International politics, latest news items, Mexican life, religion, Relocation to mexico, Retirement, righteousness, The truth, Uncategorized, war and resistance, world issues | Leave a comment

The Joseph Boyden Affair and the San Miguel Writers Conference.


The Joseph Boyden Affair and the San Miguel Writers Conference

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I just came back from the San Miguel de Allende writers conference in Mexico that the local writers group organized for the thirteenth year. As I was deeply affected by events, I want to write about it and let others have a peek into this experience.
The first time I attended—last year—I carefully dipped one toe in the water of this ocean of creative talent and their admirers in this balmy enclave of predominantly Anglo attendants, and only picked a small number of events to attend. This year, I selected all the workshops, forums, readings, and presentations I was interested in, and also spoke with two literary agents to test their interest in my latest novel.

I had purchased books by the authors of my interest in advance, Joseph Boyden and Emma Donoghue—both Canadians—who were scheduled, among others, to give evening keynote addresses—generally the highlight of the day. Unfortunately, Emma Donoghue cancelled due to a death in the family.

Prior to the conference week, the locals of San Miguel were offered a special event: a reading and discussion group on Joseph Boyden’s novel Through Black Spruce, with a reception and the opportunity to meet the author. I contacted the organizer of the event and inquired if there was any chance to participate on line, but that was not offered. I only planned for the conference week (costs being the main reason) and did not attend this event.
In tandem with this readers’ event, a second discussion about cultural appropriation and a movie presentation open to the general public took place. Angry Inuk by Canadian filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s would be shown, to bring awareness about another group of indigenous people to the local community and to aid in a discussion about how to survive & maintain cultural integrity within an encroaching western culture. I was alerted by my Twitter feed that the filmmaker Arnaquq-Baril was not informed of the showing and was not invited to be present at the discussion—a prime example of actual cultural appropriation: using a product of another culture for your own purpose, and not involving the maker.

Once arrived in SMA, I attended the multicultural forum, titled Co-Cultural panel: Our Cultures, Ourselves, with authors John Valliant, Rita Dove, Jorge Volpi, and Joseph Boyden on the panel. The questions asked by the moderator were to the point, but in my view rather superficial. In the Q&A minutes the public’s questions were gentle, except one Mexican reader, who charged that Volpe, as a Mexican author, did not write about Mexicans and the troubles in his country. On the question from a reader how the authors felt about writing about a culture that is different than their own, each author’s answered that they felt not part of one particular culture, but of at least two, or more, and that they could write about the various cultures they had experienced by living for a number of years submerged in it, even if not born into it. Boyden literally addressed the elephant in the room and mentioned he would talk about that later in more detail.

Joseph Boyden gave his keynote presentation on the second-last night of the conference, titled: “Creation Myth: One Writer’s Life in Three Simple Steps”. He moved me to tears with his eloquence and his vulnerability. He had selected an excerpt of a story about his suicide attempt as a 16-year old for his readings—tearfully himself—and explained how he uses this story in his work with Indigenous youth, to encourage them to live. His explanations of his family of origin and his multi-ethnic background with predominantly Irish and Scottish heritage and some great-grandmotherly First Nation heritage, was the same he always has provided. He talked about his relationships with Indigenous people in his life and the honorary titles given to him, such as nephew.
He talked about the struggles he has faced in the literary world lately, without going into details what exactly that was about, assuming he was before an informed audience. His defiance was clear to his listeners, as well as his obvious pain, and how unexpected the attacks on him had been to him. It was clear to me that this wounding has led him into a crisis of faith in himself and in the literary world, which is already so very small in Canada; a writer needs every possible supporter.
Boyden obviously is strongly identifying with our Indigenous population, whether sanctioned by the literary community or not. He expressed great compassion for the members of First Nations. He wanted to show his audience the troubles Canada faces—to our shame—and has allowed to linger on, such as the suicide rates among the Indigenous youth, and the murders on women and girls.
He talked about his friend Gord Downie and what his collaboration on the Charlie Wenjack story meant to him. For those who followed Gord’s “Three Day Road” in his last year before the brain tumor got him, the images of Gord and “The Hip” on their goodbye tour as televised by CBC flashed before our eyes. I imagined that, like me, by the end of his address most Canadians in the ballroom were moved to tears, and many others as well.

I am a beginning writer and have reflected on how I must deal with the issue of Boyden’s fall from grace in the Canadian world of writers. I am conflicted and would like to restore my faith in the literary world, for my own sake. To say you need a thick skin is an understatement. As a writer one would need a blindfold and a mask, as well as a clip on your nose against the bad smells, and tiptoe through the world of appropriateness. One mistake and you crash in the fiery pit of condemnation.

Cultural appropriation is an ugly concept and projects a picture of colonialism and exploitation. On the other hand, the development of what is appropriate to write about changes as society changes. What was allowed a century ago, is not anymore. To be an Indian was not a desired status. Nobody wanted to write about Indigenous characters. First Nations’ writers were considered niche writers and didn’t reach the mainstream readers. They were not interesting, not relevant, and white Anglo-Saxon culture was king. Thirty years ago when I lived in northern Alberta, it broke my heart to hear my fellow student say he was ashamed of being an Indian. My classmates showed me they had an uphill battle being taken seriously by mainstream Canadians on all fronts.

Boyden touched on the sore spot in Canadian society by talking about First Nations—Canada’s true founding fathers. I want to give Boyden credit for taking on the subject and for exposing the underbelly of our society: Canada’s treatment of our First Nations. I can forgive him for over-identifying with the subject. Unfortunately, the cultural appropriation issue came alive and it overshadowed the material issues he wrote about.
“I feel like I am standing at the precipice,” he joked, standing on the steps of a sunken living room, prior to facing the discussion group. He is indeed. How is he going to pick up the pieces, and will Canada let him?
Does Boyden even need the approval of the Canadian literary world? I don’t blame him for seeking support for his writing wherever he can find it, even at this weird and unique conference of (mostly) retired “gringos” in Mexico. His books are marvellous and his intentions are good. What more do we want from a writer? I am looking forward to his next novel.

Posted in Agents, Author circles, book review, Canadian publishers, Children and child protection, Diversity issues, latest news items, Mexican life, Pubic Relations, Publishing, Retirement, Uncategorized, victims, woemn and murder, women's issues; torture of women, Writing life | Tagged | 6 Comments

THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS ROOM


The White House Press Room

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As a person who had to learn several languages (among which English)—and still learning Spanish—I am amazed by Sara Huckabee’s language dexterity. She speaks an English that is completely new to me. I understand what she says, in actual words, but the meaning as I have come to understand this of the words she uses in English seems completely different, and I am utterly confused after having listened for a while to her replies to questions from the press at the White House briefing room. I am unable to listen longer than ten minutes to her. She is very bad for my belief in languages as a means for communication.

 

Often she seems to turn words and makes sentences to mean the opposite of what I think they should mean. She is scolding people for not understanding what she is saying, but seldom asks for feedback whether what she said is understood by the receivers.

 

She deflects questions and then blames people for being stupid that she has to repeat the answers to their questions so may times.

 

She turns questions about things the president is supposed to have said completely against the questioner, and cold-faced says he didn’t say such a thing, while people know that is a lie, and she then admonishes the questioners—media professionals—“you people get your mind out of the gutter” (or whatever else it was alleged) and defers to the president’s agenda stating that all is going as he wished.

 

She looks down when somebody asks a question, as if he is concentrating on what lie she will tell next in response. Her all-around body language is atrocious. She looks as if she rather be at a funeral than in the press room.

 

She turns the world in two camps: you people, and The President.

 

She pretends that what she says should unconditionally be believed, and that what she says is the godforsaken truth, while I have seen—like so many others—that she often lies and distorts meaning.

For example: The President wants a merit based immigration law that eliminates the colour and race bar, she says, ignoring the shit-storm going on around her in the world about the demeaning terms the president used for countries with predominantly Black citizens.

 

(Trump may have picked up that term, merit-based, after talking to Justin Trudeau, because Canada has, among other parts to the immigration system, a merit system that also allows refugees and asylum-seekers from nations in peril, and family reunion and temporary workers without any restrictions from what nations they are. (At this time, Canada immigration is considering that the USA should be added to nations from where refugees can make legitimate refugee claims: currently thousands of Haitians come across the border afraid for their safety).  Furthermore, a merit system does have a reasonable process to citizenship. Any immigrant can become a citizen after 3 years of law-abiding living (if accepted for refugee status, or as a regular immigrant.)

All Ms. Huckabee does is—as far as I can see—is deflect, lie, deflect, and lie. Aware of the job she allows the media to fulfill in the White House Press Room, she patronized and misused that power on a regular base by engaging in stupid, immature games: such as lets’ all say what we are thankful for, while it is clear she hates the people she faces in the press room.

Any real information is not expected to come out of that press room. Huckabee-Sanders  is doing a good enough job for the president in that respect—deflect and deny—but any real revelations will not be forthcoming. I don’t like her at all. She speaks and acts with little respect for the people she is talking to. She looks as if she suffers permanently from lack of sleep en is grouchy, although somebody must have warned her to be “nicer”, and at times a fake smile appears on her face, although her eyes stay dead.

Please, how long do we have to suffer her? I guess there would be a slim chance that we get somebody else on that spot that can speak the truth and likes people who ask questions.

 

Posted in Babyboomer, Diversity issues, Global immigration, Hitler, Immigration, International politics, latest news items, Mexican life, Pubic Relations, Relocation to mexico, The truth, Trump, Uncategorized, victims, war and resistance | 6 Comments

HAPPY NEW YEAR IN AJIJIC, MEXICO


 

HAPPY NEW YEAR IN AJIJI, MEXICO

 

To all readers, I wish you a Happy 2018.

Another year has started. For me, it is the last year before I’ll hit the septuagenarian age. Right now I am sitting on my second-floor balcony with a misty view of the lake that stretches before me from east to west, a ten-minute walk downhill.

The haze over Lake Chapala may be moisture, or more likely, smoke, since the community has spent several nights this week celebrating Christmas Eve and New Years Eve by joining their neighbours, friends, and children, sitting around small warming wood fires during these still-cool nights, talking, snacking, and listening to the romantic Mexican music with a strong beat coming from the speakers extended to the street.

And the farmers are burning off the dead grass before planting, contributing to the cloud hanging between the hills, waiting for a breeze.

 

I am living the dream, they say because I am spending my time doing what I want, not worrying about how I shall provide for my daily basic needs. Of course, not all of what I want and need is met here. Life is just a collection of needs and wants and the balance is sometimes precarious, and hard to detect which is which. In this adopted country I see that many needs of the locals may not be met, and wants often have to take a backseat due to poverty. It doesn’t seem to me that the autochthones live any less happy, or less fulfilled lives than the rich gringos. I admire their way of mixing fun with the realities of life and taking everything out of it: working hard and celebrate at certain times.

 

I admire the abandon with which the locals undertook these past days of celebration in this small Mexican village of hundreds of years old (established around 1500 as it now is). With small luxuries—a bottle of tequila, or a crate of beer, a few pieces of fireworks, and a few bags of chips, and sometimes fried stuff—they create a twelve-hour-plus marathon of leisure that apparently fulfills the need so they can carry on everyday life for a while afterward.

The fiestas are happening frequently enough that this routine is repeated many times, each time for a different purpose and with different details and rituals. Most of it is centered around the Catholic calendar and became a mix of old customs, from before the missionaries hit Mexico, with the Catholic symbolism.

 

If the setting would be anywhere else, say in my Canadian neighbourhood, fights would break out between drunk celebrants and the police called by grumbling neighbours to intervene and to break up the party. Not here in Mexico.  Quietly, at the end of it all at eight in the morning, after the last song blared through the speaker box, the group gathers all the garbage, kicks apart the embers of the fire, and take the plastic chairs and the speaker box home. Only a charred spot on the cobblestones remains to witness that something took place here.

 

The foreign visitors and expatriate-residents know what to expect. If we don’t like it, we’d better leave town, and many do indeed go to the coast when the longest fiesta—the ten-day celebration of the village’s patron saint, San Andres—is in progress. I don’t mind it and participated some of it with a group of friends.

It so happens that one of the traditional party locations is located on the corner in front of my house, where the members of a whole neighbourhood behind me in a privada (private road) meet the residents of the street.

To get some sleep, I plug my only working ear with silicone, close the windows and doors and go to sleep when I am tired.  I intend to join them soon on my own when my confidence is up and I know enough Spanish to have somewhat of a conversation beyond how are you and what’s your name.  I am a bit hesitant about it and probably will only join when there are other women around the fire, just to preserve my reputation, LOL.

 

In two weeks my days here have pretty much fallen into a routine; I created a structure, which most of us need in our lives. I break it whenever something else and more interesting comes along.

After I get up—my cat wakes me up—I get my coffee, make some toast and have fruit, often taking it up to my second-floor balcony in the emerging sunshine. I am writing in the mornings. From my study, I can observe the neighbourhood routines of delivery trucks stopping by, and people popping into the convenience store, and the daily trip of the basura (garbage) truck picking up the bags by the roadside.

Yes, the Mexicans do recycle, although I heard gringos saying they do not. But I think the visitors didn’t see the basura workers in action inside the truck. Every day they come by with their trucks, so the streets are cleaned up daily. (It used to be that the women swept their street daily as well.) I have been told there are others who comb through the refuse at the dumpsite too, but these people are likely the very poor that aren’t paid to do that.

The men on the truck (4) take the small and large garbage bags, pull them apart right on the truck and sort the materials, then tuck each category of refuse in large, separate bags hanging from the truck. So if you want to help them, you could sort your own garbage in separate bags: glassware and cans; bathroom paper and diapers/sanitary refuse; paper and cardboard; clothes and linen; food; garden refuse; plastic bags and containers. It is custom to give the basura men a Christmas tip, for which they stick a small envelope on your door. It is a lousy job, but somebody has to do it.

 

It takes time to get settled again after a long absence—since April–and now after two weeks, I feel at home again. The house was cleaned by a daughter-in-law of a friend’s cousin who lives just around the corner and whom I paid to stop into my place once in a while. To my delight, the potted plants were all still alive. Being able to leave plants outside year-round is one of the surprising (to me) benefits of this moderate climate in the mountains.

The utility services continued during my absence, but now needed to be paid, and topped up (gas) and some repairs paid. With persistence I got my Canadian service provider to unlock my iPhone for free, and here it works great with a local SIM card and a TelMec plan for only $14 per month.

I was on the look-out for cockroaches but found only a few dead ones in locked rooms. Hurray. My biological methods worked: bay leaves spread around the house as a repellant of the smell-sensitive creatures, and plastic lids with some baking soda on it, shoved underneath the appliances and in cabinets. They get a belly-ache after dinner and die. With a cat and me in the house, I don’t want any poisons in mi casa.

We have a fluctuating electricity system and my sensitive water pump didn’t like it, so that still needs to be fixed. I also discovered little wood-loving creates in the wooden ceiling of my study. It can be treated.

 

Now that I am alone here without the distraction of company, I noticed for the first time the difference in altitude and its effects. When I get up in the morning, I have to slowly get up and let my circulation adjust if I don’t want to feel dizzy. Eggs take longer to boil too. My breathing is harder; the low-grade hill I take from town to my casa is noticeable. Walking down the hill on the other hand—well you get the idea.

 

Without a car, I notice everything, and others notice me. There are merchants that recognize me, or just maybe they’re friendly to every lone gringa. The neighbourhood store owner is Rosa and she is very nice; her staff is a very young lady without any English, so I practice my Spanish. I buy my daily things there: bread, eggs, milk, beer, etc.

 

My neighbours going downhill are all locals and I am the first one to say hello ((h)ola, buenas dias/tardes/noches) and they always reply, often with smiles.  My typical Mexican neighbourhood, barrio Tio Domingo, (although the realtor likes to locate my casa in Las Salvias), north of the carretera (highway), runs west from Juarez to the La Salvias barrio, and across from the San Sebastian barrio, which is east from Juarez. There are no tourist shops. Horses and dogs live here too, LOL. The Rojas bakery (and friend, Chelis) is located on Juarez.

 

My neighbours going uphill—except a couple of houses close to me—are gringos and Mexicans in large homes, rented out, or owned.  You never see them outside in the streets. That posh area is called La Salvias after the spiked, purplish-blue plant.

 

This year I arrived late, in mid December, as I couldn’t get a ticket for my cat (only 2 pets on board per Westjet flight). Before December, a lot of fiestas already took place. The following is a citation from the Chapala.com site and its member k2tog, who appears not so fond of some of the local customs.

“Actually, the Virgin who resides in the little chapel on the Northwest side of the Plaza in Ajijic goes on a walkabout around Sept 29/30th to visit her namesake chapel near Six Corners for mass, she spends the night there and then she is walked from there to the Parroquia on Marcos Castellanos and she stays there for the entire month of October. Barrios share the responsibility of shooting off cohetes and neighbors walk together in the wee hours of each morning to say the Rosary. At the end of October she will go on another walkabout (parade) to return to her permanent home, and sometimes she is joined by The Virgin of Zapopan, or other Virgins who are visiting the area. She doesn’t have a parade every day just at the beginning of October and at the end. If you live in the village of Ajijic you probably live in one of the barrios who will participate…so depending on where you are in the “hood” you may be startled awake like Valerie described or you may not hear much of anything. I always look forward to the weeks when they are not in my barrio.”

So far the lady k2tog.

Those who read my blog already know that the Virgin of Guadalupe has an altar across from my house, so in her week I do get the celebrations and the bombs (cohetes, pronunciation sounds like coitus, pun intended) going off in the early mornings to wake us up for mass, and the band playing in front of each corner and, of course, in front of the Virgin, and volunteers handing out hot tea, with something stronger, if you wish. Then off to mass, where musicians serenade the Virgin and the church is overfull with real flowers. To me, it’s a joyous and respectful celebration and I love it. I suspect this mix of the secular and the sacred is why the Mexicans stay with the church and the religion.

 

For my life here, I need to make more connections yet, beyond the few people I have known from before, as life can get lonely without automatic access to friends. I miss my Mah Jong club. Luckily some of my Canadian friends are also in Mexico and I hope to see them at some point.

To get more contacts and, possibly, like-minded friends I will join de Chapala writers club. For developing my writing skills, I plan to attend two conferences, one in February in San Miguel de Allende, and one in March in Ajijic.

I hope to take Spanish lessons and have made an effort to locate teachers.

There is a large Chapala association for foreigners, but I am hesitant to be swallowed up by that group. Who knows, I might join. I hear that recently many more people settle in the area from the USA, eager to escape the current state of affairs there with a less than popular president. The local service people have been kept busy all year round now. A happy migration for both sides of the future wall, in this case at least, I suppose.

 

My early mornings usually are quiet, unless there is a market— the tenguis on Wednesdays, the biological market on Tuesdays, both full of anything you ever wanted, food not the least of it.

My late mornings or early afternoons are some/most times spent with a siesta first and/or reading. I have lots of time to read and am currently reading books by 2 key presenters at the SMA writers conference, hoping to have a chat with them.

Later some shopping, or visiting, and walking. The lakeside boulevard (malecon) is a nice spot to do that and to get there I walk downhill for ten minutes. I cook most of my meals, from all fresh, unprocessed foods, delicious! My evenings are quiet most days, just like my life in Canada. Occasionally, I go out for supper, or a margarita, or a michelada, although I drink those at home too.

 

In late January the UBC course online Polishing and Editing Your Manuscript will start up and I will use the instructors and materials to edit my manuscript. I am working hard on a Dutch translation of my third book—the war story—and am waiting for the rejections from Canadian publishers to come in before I will send it to the American and UK publishers.

 

Now, this is the quiet life of this writer so far. The next time I will post some new photos.

 

I am looking forward to your comments or questions. Please rate the post on the blog’s top.

 

If you read any of my 2 books (On Thin Ice and Guardians’ Betrayal) please, would you add a few lines as a review to its Amazon site (ca or com or UK)? Thank you for helping my ratings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ON THE ELEVENTH DAY OF THE ELEVENTH MONTH


IMG_3155REMEMBERING ON THE ELEVENTH DAY OF THE ELEVENTH MONTH.

My siblings on our memorial trip to Ommen — the place of my sister’s birth — and where MY family survived the war years (before I was born).

The locals hold memorials at the stone to honour the fallen on the Dutch memorial day: May 4, which is the day before the official liberation day: May 5.

On Canadian Remembrance day, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I remember World War II. My eldest brother is thirteen years older than me. He has some memories of war times, as well as his contemporaries – my cousins. I heard about those memories just recently. My parents did not talk about the war. Born after the war, I have no memory of it, although the war ruled my childhood and my parents, underneath it all, like ill-fitting and scratchy wool underwear: you get used to wearing it and it saves you from the cold.

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The memorial for the victims killed at the prison camp ERIKA, at the edge of the territory of the former camp, now a camping for summer and winter guests. This is the only sign of what is left of the camp, with a few boards that were salvaged from the heap of debris by members of the Ommen historical society.

 

I heard about the war in grade school; my teachers focused beyond the three Rs on the perils of discrimination and intolerance. We saw photos and films with survivors from German concentration and labor camps and from the other occupied territories, shipped into cattle railcars and brought to near-extinction in camps. The pictures showed live skeletons, people that had survived the concentration camps—people that were Jewish, homosexual, developmentally delayed, or otherwise disabled, punishable by death in the eyes of the Nazis.

We as children saw piles of items collected from the victims by the staff of the German industrial-style extermination camps: millions of bones of the exterminated, piles as high as a house. We saw piles of suitcases, and boots, and hair to be used for pillow fill, and large dugouts with the emaciated dead, ready to be set on fire. We heard all of the atrocious facts of that war.  It was a scary mystery to us children; how could this have existed?

We were shown these unimaginable things, so we would never let this ever happen again when we’d grow up and rule the world instead of our parents. We were educated, no, indoctrinated, to become tolerant and to appreciate differences in others, and learn to recognize the slightest signs of discrimination and racism. We children embodied the hope of our parents for a better future for the nation, for the world. No wonder we were the love children and despised war as adults – make love-not war!

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The entrance gate of the prison camp ERIKA, model at the Ommen regional museum.

 

A couple of years ago my eldest cousin, over 80 years old, gave me his research into the family history; it contained a piece written by my dad on the wind-up of collaborators, after his town’s liberation by the Canadian allied soldiers. This piece of history started my questioning. He must have had a hell of a time protecting the citizens from the German army officials and the prison camp boss, and do his resistance work at the same time.  The Nazis frequently shot non-compliant citizens for any small offense against the depraved Nazi regulations, or even for no offense at all, or just shoot them as hostages in retribution for resistance actions. Sometimes a person was shot in the street by way of an instant execution, just to set an example; thus the Nazis succeeded their occupation by instilling terror.  It may have been a point of consideration with the Nazi occupiers that my dad was married to a German-born woman. In any case, he stayed on duty during this stressful time and remained the police chief until the Canadian Allies liberated my country.

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The Concert Hall in Amsterdam where the Jewish citizens were collected after razzias in the city, to be transported to Poland’s extermination camps.

 

The appearance of collaboration with the Nazi occupiers served my dad well – up to a point. My Oma was friendly to the German soldiers during the occupation and identified with the Germans; most of her adult life she had been German.  She was a staunch supporter of Hitler and openly adored him; Hitler gave pride back to the defeated and orphaned German nation after World War I. Hitler to her was finally someone who dared say the things many Germans were thinking already in a depressed and devastated country: It’s all those foreigners’ fault, those Jews. Never mind that these citizens were born German (or Dutch) and had been citizens for many generations; that was conveniently forgotten.

Not only she: it turned out the whole of Europe had been at the very least covertly, and often overtly anti-Semitic; nobody stopped Hitler’s fury to kill all Jews until it was too late. “I didn’t know” was a popular phrase.

My Oma gave the war effort collectors her metals, including the antique copper wares. My dad was pissed, but what could he do? The deed was done. His wife was her daughter. He didn’t want to alienate his mother-in-law, nor his wife.

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The Sten gun used by the Illegality, dropped by the thousands by British planes. This specimen in the Ommen regional museum.

 

The last two years, I have researched the history of the occupation and found out that three years after the liberation it had become clear to the new Dutch government (from extensive investigations and trials of the most severe cases) that a good number of top civil servants had been criminally involved with the Nazis to an advanced level.

Although the cabinet and Queen had escaped to England at the time of the German invasion, the remaining deputy ministers remained in power and most willingly did what the Nazi governors told them to do. For the police, the deputy minister/state secretary of justice was the highest authority. He had instructed all policemen down the line to comply with all Nazi orders, especially those of the German head of police, SS boss Hanns Rauter. It left my dad scrambling for ways to subterfuge and avoid his superiors’ directions.

 

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My dad in full uniform before the war. His horse was requisitioned by the Nazis, as were all other horses.

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The Ommen Marechaussee brigade building, now converted to civilian homes.

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The horse stables, now converted to garages.

 

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The (former) hayloft over the stables.

 

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So this building is almost a century old, but renovated a few times, of course. It is the side entrance to the former stables.

 

After the liberation, the civil service top brass was severely judged by the Extraordinary Court, which was instated for determining the conduct of the civil service during the occupation. The death penalty (abandoned before the war) was reinstated. For my father, it was significant that his top boss, the deputy/secretary of state of the Justice Ministry, Mr. Schrieke, was sentenced to death. My father’s direct superior in his region, Commissioner Feenstra, was sentenced to death and was executed the following year.

For judging the conduct of lower ranking individual policemen, the Extraordinary Courts did not consider the commands from the leadership enough justification. As policemen they should have known better and they were sentenced for overstepping the bounds of decency. In law, no crime existed in collaboration with the enemy, so the prosecution of war criminals broke new ground with describing the new crime of collaboration with the enemy.

It was noted that immediately after the war, rather extreme court judgments were followed by quick executions (=within a year). As time went on, the Queen pardoned many convicted civil servants that had not been executed yet, and the executions stopped. Mr. Schrieke escaped his death sentence, which was commuted to life in prison.

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The Canadians are here liberating the town of Ommen! The bridge over the river Vecht was demolished, blown up by the German OT engineers, but quickly restored to functionality by the Canadian engineers.

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Summerhouse in the Ommen forest (De wolfskuil) where during the war illegals hid crashed allied pilots.

 

I dove into my dad’s personal history and researched seventy-year old criminal files, hidden away in the National Archives. I found out what had happened. During the last two years of the occupation, my dad was assigned the role of informant/spy for the Illegality (resistance) and was told to establish relationships with the Nazis and the crew of the prison camp. He pretended to like the Germans and acted with calculated duplicity on instruction of the commander of his local resistance group. He played his role very well and appeared to be a collaborator, fooling everybody in town, including his reporters.

 

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A group of Illegals in the woods.

He collected information from the local Wehrmacht commander about German troop movements and from the prison camp superintendent, a German SS boss, called Werner Schwier, and from his crew of men-hunting commandos. The prison was operated by the German Nazi police: Ordnungspolizei. In his role as police chief and trusted by the camp leadership, he was able to divert some arrested to freedom or intervene on their behalf with the camp boss, and he assisted with the illegal British weapon drops for the benefit of the area’s resistance.

 

Towards the end of the war, Dutch Nazis occupied a third of all positions in the civil service. The police force in general and the justice system was judged and found lacking. Many Dutch had actively caused the deportation of Jewish Dutch. Like so many others, my parents never wanted to tell us what happened in those years. Bury it, move on, don’t think about it was the thought of the day. That’s why Queen Wilhelmina handed down many pardons. There was no honor in survival those war years; too much had happened that nobody would understand who hadn’t been there. The words failed.

 

My dad’s brother-in-law was a Dutch Nazi, while another brother-in-law was the regional commander of the resistance group. My dad’s life must have been a balancing act, putting his whole family at even greater risk with a potential traitor in his extended family, and a wife he was not sure he could trust either.

War likely had a great impact on my parents.  It might have contributed to my dad becoming such an intolerable straight shooter after regaining his freedom to speak and act according to his true beliefs. I have never given my parents enough credit for surviving and for staying on the right side during those years. I just had no idea.

IMG_3130

What we call a knijpkat — sqeeze cat — a manual dynamo for a tiny flashlight (in the Ommen regional museum).

 

I am unable to push back tears when I see on TV expressions of gratitude on the faces of Dutch citizens and their children, even after 70 years. The Canadian, British, Polish and American soldiers became mythical heroes in my homeland.  Although they were never in a war themselves, these Dutch celebrate the Allied soldiers, making a point of letting their liberators know – while they are still alive – that they are very appreciated. The Dutch remember the sacrifices of those that didn’t survive. I cry for the wonderment on the faces of the very few Allied veterans left attending the Dutch tributes. I am an immigrant. I remember my Dutch trauma on the eleventh of the eleventh month.

Only after it is too late and our parents have gone do we, children, become adult enough to really see our parents, and give them due credit.

 

War did not stop after WWII. Atrocities continue and the promise of Never Again was broken. We see refugees on TV by the millions seeking a place of peace – more are now afoot than after World War II. Discrimination of people that are different, look different, believe something different, and live differently continues, and in some nations became policy.

We are all guilty when we do not stop others in their exploitation of the vulnerable, not protest loudly enough, and of thinking it is not up to us to shelter the displaced or relocate refugees. Our parents’ promise “never again” we didn’t keep. I cry for that fact, and for the imperfect world we are living in, our environment so damaged, with so many damaged people without a peaceful place to live.

The world has become a country with many survivors of wars. If we do not stand for democracy and learn from our own traumas, if we don’t become a force for good, for inclusion and neighbourly support, we face another world disaster. Non-action is not an option; bystanders become a force for bad.

On Remembrance Day and every day of the year, let’s not forget!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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